1 Corinthians Chapter 15:35-49

My intent was to push through to the end of the chapter, but this simple got to be too long, so I broke it into two not very equal parts.

35 Ἀλλὰ ἐρεῖ τις,  Πῶς ἐγείρονται οἱ νεκροί; ποίῳ δὲ σώματι ἔρχονται;

But if someone says, “How are the dead raised? In what sort of body do they come?” 

This is getting down to brass tacks, here. These are truly theological inquiries. But the thing to note is that these questions imply a teaching that the body rises, or is raised. This is not metaphorical. It’s literal. That is a very significant development.

35 Sed dicet aliquis: “Quomodo resurgunt mortui? Quali autem corpore veniunt?”.

36 ἄφρων, σὺ ὃ σπείρεις οὐ ζῳοποιεῖται ἐὰν μὴ ἀποθάνῃ:

Fools, you, what you sow, is not made-alive if it has not died. (…is not made alive is a very literal rendering of the compound <<ζῳοποιεῖται>>)

A serious question was posed, and the response borders on an ad hominem attack or simple irrelevance. But let’s read on.

36 Insipiens! Tu, quod seminas, non vivificatur, nisi prius moriatur;

37 καὶ ὃ σπείρεις, οὐ τὸ σῶμα τὸ γενησόμενον σπείρεις ἀλλὰ γυμνὸν κόκκον εἰ τύχοι σίτου ἤ τινος τῶν λοιπῶν:

And what you sow, is not the body that the seed becomes, but the naked grain, if perchance of wheat, or of something of the rest (i.e., something else).

This is the second time that Paul has used the analogy of seed. The first was back in Chapter 3 when Paul was talking about how he had planted the seed and Apollos had tended it. Of course the sower and the seed is a famous parable, appearing in all three synoptics. Now, the question is, did Paul get this analogy from stories of Jesus? Or, did Paul create the analogy? Or, was the analogy fairly common for the time and place? The answer to this question is important; it’s also virtually unknowable. Once again, if Paul got it from Jesus, why doesn’t he say so? …As the Lord said…Wouldn’t that carry some weight? Perhaps, but this is also the sort of argument that I’m going to contradict when we get to Matthew, or certainly to Luke. It’s an “argument” based on one’s suppositions about what an author would do with information that is at his/her disposal. That is really no evidence at all. Or is it?

OTOH, maybe the parable was so well known that Paul knew instinctively that the analogy would be understood. Americans refer to Independence Day as the Fourth of July. Well, every country has a July 4 on its calendar; but in the US the significance of the date is so well understood that it’s not necessary to explain. Against this, however, I would say that the parable of the sower does not show up either in the reconstructed Q document, nor in the Gospel of Thomas. Given that these are supposedly ‘early’ works, this mitigates against the sower being so basic to the corpus of Jesus sayings that Paul could simply assume knowledge of it. Please note that I am not necessarily giving credence to the suppositions that there actually was a Q–I’m not at all sure I believe that; in fact, I’m becoming increasingly hostile to the idea–or that the Gospel of Thomas was an early work–another idea to which I am becoming ever more opposed. The point is simply that it appears that others also do not believe that the sower parable dates to the earliest stratum of Jesus’ beliefs. IOW, for once I’m not out on my own little limb.

So, in effect, we don’t–can’t–know the origin of the analogy. My sense–whatever little that is worth–is that this parable in the gospels did not originate with Jesus, but was a later addition. But, I pretty much feel that way about most of the stuff in the gospels.

37 et, quod seminas, non corpus, quod futurum est, seminas sed nudum granum, ut puta tritici aut alicuius ceterorum.

38 ὁ δὲ θεὸς δίδωσιν αὐτῷ σῶμα καθὼς ἠθέλησεν, καὶ ἑκάστῳ τῶν σπερμάτων ἴδιον σῶμα.

But God will give to it a body as he wished, and to each its own body from the seeds.

I’m a little uncertain about “wished”. Per Liddell and Scott, the basic root of the verb << θέλω >> is ‘to will’. At least, that’s what the Victorians thought. But here we come again to the question of whether Greek and Latin influence the way Victorians thought, or whether the Victorians determined how these Greek and Latin words should be taken. How formal is the writing here? I’ve been immersed in the theological controversies of the later Middle Ages recently, where the idea of God’s will is very prominent. Did Paul mean to say that God willed the body each seed was to have? Or that he wished it to have a particular body? Or that he wanted it to have a particular body? The distinctions are subtle, but real. The three English words overlap, but are not exactly synonyms. But then, how much of my intent is based on reading a lot of very formal works–histories, mainly? Perhaps in everyday usage, the meaning of the word wasn’t quite as strong? Or, that the reader/hearer would understand the proper nuance?

Again, the point here is to underscore just how difficult it can be to find the proper nuance; and sometimes, the more common the word, the more difficult this becomes.

38 Deus autem dat illi corpus sicut voluit, et unicuique seminum proprium corpus.

39 οὐ πᾶσα σὰρξ ἡ αὐτὴ σάρξ, ἀλλὰ ἄλλη μὲν ἀνθρώπων, ἄλλη δὲ σὰρξ κτηνῶν, ἄλλη δὲ σὰρξ πτηνῶν, ἄλλη δὲ ἰχθύων.

All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one of people, but another of beasts, and another of birds, and another of fish.

A bit of a biology lesson; the only quibble is the first distinction. Basically, people and beasts are pretty much the same thing. But there is a moral distinction.

39 Non omnis caro eadem caro, sed alia hominum, alia caro pecorum, alia caro volucrum, alia autem piscium.

40 καὶ σώματα ἐπουράνια, καὶ σώματα ἐπίγεια: ἀλλὰ ἑτέρα μὲν ἡ τῶν ἐπουρανίων δόξα, ἑτέρα δὲ ἡ τῶν ἐπιγείων.

And the heavenly bodies and the earthly bodies: but on the one hand (is) different the glory of the heavenly ones (= “bodies”), but different from the (glory) of the earthly ones.

So our heavenly body is different from an earthly body. This is important information. One wonders whence Paul got this. Or is he making it up as he goes along? Again, I don’t mean to be flippant about this; that is actually a serious question. Where is he getting this stuff?

40 Et corpora caelestia et corpora terrestria, sed alia quidem caelestium gloria, alia autem terrestrium.

41 ἄλλη δόξα ἡλίου, καὶ ἄλλη δόξα σελήνης, καὶ ἄλλη δόξα ἀστέρων: ἀστὴρ γὰρ ἀστέρος διαφέρει ἐν δόξῃ.

The glory of the sun is other, and the glory of the moon is other, and the glory of the stars is otherwise; for a star differs from star in glory.

An argument from analogy, that has a level of poetic sense about it.

41 Alia claritas solis, alia claritas lunae et alia claritas stellarum; stella enim a stella differt in claritate.

42 Οὕτως καὶ ἡ ἀνάστασις τῶν νεκρῶν. σπείρεται ἐν φθορᾷ, ἐγείρεται ἐν ἀφθαρσίᾳ:

And in this way (is) the standing up of the dead. It (the resurrection) is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption.

This is literal, so the tenses/voices are a little off in English. This is so clearly the vegetation cycle of Adonis, and Dionysios, and Osiris that it requires, I think, little comment. From a mythological point of view, Jesus’ connection to this age-old cycle is also clear, as Joseph Campbell demonstrates so effectively.

42 Sic et resurrectio mortuorum: seminatur in corruptione, resurgit in incorruptione;

43 σπείρεται ἐν ἀτιμίᾳ, ἐγείρεται ἐν δόξῃ: σπείρεταιἐν ἀσθενείᾳ, ἐγείρεται ἐν δυνάμει:

It (the body, the resurrection) is sown in dishonour, (but was) raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.

Paul is starting one of his rhetorical explanations. Comment deferred.

43 seminatur in ignobilitate, resurgit in gloria; seminatur in infirmitate, resurgit in virtute;

44 σπείρεται σῶμα ψυχικόν, ἐγείρεται σῶμα πνευματικόν. εἰ ἔστιν σῶμα ψυχικόν, ἔστιν καὶ πνευματικόν.

The body is sown in in the soul, the body is raised in the spirit. If the body is living, it is also spiritual.

OK. Here we are with the psyche/pneuma distinction again. Here we can clearly see that translating “psyche”  (ψυχὴ) as “soul” (as it often is) doesn’t necessarily work. Here, the inferiority of the psyche to the pneuma is drawn very sharply. In Classical Greek, psyche, generally, meant something like “life”. It was decidedly opposed to the flesh or the body, but it was not synonymous with “pneuma”, either. We can, perhaps, envision psyche as meaning the combination of the body and the breath, so that the creature having both these elements is alive. Yet, at the same time, it was a myriad of psyches that the wrath of Achilles–that baneful wrath–sent speeding towards Hades; so there is a sense in which psyche is separate from the soma, the body.

Liddell and Scott translate “psychikon” as ‘of life’, or even ‘spiritual’. It cites this passage as an instance of the word meaning ‘natural’, which is how the KJV and most others render the word. A single cite of a word like this with a specific meaning in a specific passage makes me very nervous. This is increased when the passage in question is in the Bible. The likelihood of making the word mean what we want it to is immense. In short, we fit the meaning to what we have all agreed that the the passage means, which is a very circular argument. 

Nor does the Latin help all that much. The word used to translate psyche, ‘anima’, is the word Augustine routinely used to mean ‘soul’. The Latin “spiritus” is, more or less, a direct equivalent of “pneuma”; so contrasting ‘anima’ with “spiritus” recreates the problem almost exactly. 

Do I disagree with rendering psyche here as ‘natural’. Not really. After all, ‘anima’ is obviously the root of ‘animal’, which is something opposed to vegetable; both are alive, but only the animal has breath when it is alive. I suppose one could quibble here; lord knows I do that often enough. But, the point here is to recognise that, really, we do not know exactly what Paul is trying to say here. We do not have enough of his philosophical background to understand, in a complete way, exactly what distinction he was trying to make. That he was making one is clear. But, the problem is that the word ‘psyche’ has become so laden with implication that Paul’s intent is hard to discern. Perhaps we have to leave it that this was a way-station on the way to ‘psyche’ coming to mean what we call a soul.

44 seminatur corpus animale, resurgit corpus spiritale.  Si est corpus animale, est et spiritale.

45 οὕτως καὶ γέγραπται, Ἐγένετο ὁ πρῶτος ἄνθρωπος Ἀδὰμ εἰς ψυχὴν ζῶσαν: ὁ ἔσχατος Ἀδὰμ εἰς πνεῦμα ζῳοποιοῦν.

And thus it was written, “So it happened that the first man Adam lived in the natural way; the final Adam was made alive in the Spirit.

Here, I have to take psyche (ψυχὴ) as ‘natural. Otherwise, there is no distinction in English to capture what is being said in the first half of this sentence. And that may exactly be the point: that Greek subdivides this body/soul/spirit thing three ways, while English only does it twice. So we cannot quite get at that middle term. Or maybe that’s not it; the problem is, perhaps, that we have reversed the sequence of the last two. Instead of body/soul/breath, we would arrange it body/breath/soul. We think of pneuma as something mechanical, that we use for pneumatic equipment. But we have to understand that the Greeks saw the breath–spirit, in Latin–as somehow superior to the mere soul. Yes, that seems strange to us, but the past is a foreign country. Things are different there.

45 Sic et scriptum est: “Factus est primus homo Adam in animam viventem ”; novissimus Adam in Spiritum vivificantem.

46 ἀλλ’ οὐ πρῶτον τὸ πνευματικὸν ἀλλὰ τὸ ψυχικόν, ἔπειτα τὸ πνευματικόν.

But the spiritual was not first; rather the soul-ness [here, apparently, meaning ‘physical’, or ‘natural’] (was first), then the spiritual.

This is pretty much what I said in the previous comment: body/soul/breath. Part of the problem, I think, is that our words are either from Latin (spiritus), or German by way of Old English. Maybe I should render pneuma as ‘spirit-breath’ in order to get at the two facets that the word had in Greek, one of which is missing when we choose one or the other of ‘spirit’ or ‘breath’. The Greek effectively and simultaneously means both of those. We definitely lose something in the translation when we choose one over the other. “Breath” is too coarse, too common; but “spirit” lacks exactly that direct connection to the human body that is conveyed in ‘breath’.

46 Sed non prius, quod spiritale est, sed quod animale est; deinde quod spiritale.

47 ὁ πρῶτος ἄνθρωπος ἐκ γῆς χοϊκός, ὁ δεύτερος ἄνθρωπος ἐξ οὐρανοῦ.

The first man (was) from the dirt of the earth, the second man from the sky.

Of course, what I rendered as “sky” could also be translated as ‘heaven’, or perhaps more properly, ‘heavens’. But “Heaven” is not appropriate in the least. My four crib translations choose ‘heaven’. The Greeks believed that air was finer than–and so superior to–earth, so the finer materials rose into the sky, into the heavens, into heaven, eventually into Heaven. The idea that the good things came from the sky is so Greek, or even generically pagan that it’s startling. Based on my too-limited reading the OT, I really don’t recall where YHWH lived. On Mt Sinai? And where did God and the Adversary have their discussion about Job? I’m not really sure. Both parts of the Bible are pretty sketchy about details like that. Now,  by the time we get to Revelations, of course, it’s all settled: God is in the sky. But I suppose it’s not that far off the Hebrew conception of it all. Mt Sinai, Mt Olympos, what’s the difference?

But what makes this so particularly Greek is the idea of light–in both senses of the word, as in non-dark and non-heavy–as good, more refined. Milan Kundera has a really interesting discussion on this in, of course, The Unbearable Lightness of Being. He contrasts the Greek equation of light = good with the later bourgeois notion that good things had substance. A man of substance, being of substantial means, these became good things, because substance implies weight. Now the Greeks agreed that having money was a good thing; they just would not have described it in those terms. Really, when I think of the difference between Greece and Rome, the idea of weight plays a very large role: the Greeks seem to be light, airy, to dance. The Romans, OTOH, have weight–gravitas–they are planted on the earth like their aqueduct in Segovia, Spain, and they march. Zoroastrianism, of course, posited the duel of light and dark, but that was more about the non-dark aspect of “light”; the implication of weight is not really there.

Of course, Paul or any of the Jews could have come up with the idea of God = Sky from any number of sources, or entirely on their own. Joseph Campbell talks about the basic dichotomy of pantheons: the agriculturalists, who revered the Earth Mother, and the pastoralists who revered the Sky Father. The Hebrews, supposedly, started as pastoralists. But I think three hundred years of Greek thought leading to this moment had an impact. As I mentioned before: the empires of the Diadochoi were very different from the empire of the Persians; the successors of Alexander made a conscious effort to unify their realms through the spread of Greek culture. The Persians and those before…not so much. 

47 Primus homo de terra terrenus, secundus homo de caelo.

48 οἷος ὁ χοϊκός, τοιοῦτοι καὶ οἱ χοϊκοί, καὶ οἷος ὁ ἐπουράνιος, τοιοῦτοι καὶ οἱ ἐπουράνιοι:

As is the earthly, so are also the earthly, and as are the heavenly, so also are the ones who are heavenly.

First, what I translated as ‘earthly’ could have (should have?) been rendered as ‘earthy’. Now, that doesn’t at all get to the distinction Paul is trying to make in its full poetic splendour. So, for once, I am less literal than the KJV and even the NASB, both of which render this as ‘earthy’. It doesn’t help that, per Liddell and Scott, this word is only found here in 1 Corinthians. As such, I believe it’s proper to allow Paul his license. Another possibility would be ‘of the earth’, but this would imply a genitive. But the word here is the subject in both clauses, in the nominative case. So I chose to maintain the literal aspect in the case construction, and allow a more figurative rendering of the word. 
Second, what I translated as ‘heavenly’ is, I think probably the only possible English translation. Not that I’ve ever demurred from making up something in English to get across the sense of the Greek, but again, here I chose to give Paul his poetic license. 
Finally, the sense of the verse is of a piece with other places in which Paul distinguishes physical and spiritual, to the detriment of the former. 

48 Qualis terrenus, tales et terreni, et qualis caelestis, tales et caelestes;

49 καὶ καθὼς ἐφορέσαμεντὴν εἰκόνα τοῦ χοϊκοῦ, φορέσομεν καὶ τὴν εἰκόνα τοῦ ἐπουρανίου.

And in this way we have borne the image of earth, we will carry the image of the heavenly.

49 et sicut portavimus imaginem terreni, portabimus et imaginem caelestis.

This is fairly clear, and it follows his discussion of the resurrection. Upon being raised, our bodies will be transformed. How? I keep going back to the gospel stories of Jesus after being raised, how Matthew and Luke take pains to portray him as having a physical body, to the point that he can eat, drink, and be touched. And yet, the disciples who walked with him to Emmaus did not recognise him. Why not? Because his body had been transformed? 

Again, here we see some bleeding in of the pagan conception of deities. To the Greeks, the gods could take human form, and could have a physical presence. This was simply not true in the OT. The divine beings who are physically seen are described, usually, as angels. 

Really, though, I think the implication of all of this is that Paul was, indeed, making this up as he went along. And this process, in which questions were asked, or implications were drawn, is how the teachings set down by Paul and then the later writers, formed into what we would recognise as “Christianity”. Read the first volume of Pelikan’s The Christian Tradition: A History Of The Development Of Doctrine on this, and he will explain very clearly that the Holy Spirit and the Trinity are not so much set out in the NT as they are inferred from the NT in response to situations and teachings that arose later. And so it was here; Paul has to explain the raising of the body. Jesus was raised, and all the faithful would be, too. But how? How can this be? Well, it’s because our bodies will be different.

In Mark, we saw Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus from death. But she had only just died. But when Jesus raised Lazarus, John very emphatically tells us he had been buried for four days. Not only that, people feared the stench of decay they are likely to encounter when the tomb was opened. This story, and Paul’s teaching here arose, I think, in response to questions, largely from pagans, for whom the raising of the physical body was a bizarre, if not revolting idea. I do not believe that Paul had this fully worked out in his own head when he wrote these words. It would happen; he truly believed that. As for the how, or how it would be…this didn’t concern him too much. It would be…different. We would pass beyond the physical and become heavenly. What this meant exactly, even in Paul’s mind, is not at all clear. But later writers felt the need to walk this back a bit by insisting that we would not be disembodied spirits, but would have a body that could be recognised as physical, at least in some way. For, becoming spiritual could certainly be read has ‘being a spirit’; i.e., a being without a body. Paul is not completely clear on that, so Matthew and Luke felt compelled to describe the situation with more definition.

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About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on August 2, 2014, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, gospel commentary, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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